Owl Creek Conservancy

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is the Owl Creek Conservancy?

The Owl Creek Conservancy is a land trust dedicated to protecting the natural and agricultural resources of Knox County through widespread private action. Working directly with landowners, we seek to preserve woodlands, wetlands, farmland, waterways, scenic vistas, and wildlife habitats of environmental, historic, and community importance. While our main goal is to permanently protect significant lands in the county, we also work to educate people about the advantages of land conservation, the diverse land assets of Knox county, and the benefits of wise land-use planning.

Indian grass2. How did the Owl Creek Conservancy get started?

The seed for the Owl Creek Conservancy was planted in the Focus 2100 County Comprehensive Plan, issued in 1998. The plan identified preservation of the county's rural character as a primary goal and recommended the creation of a community land trust as one tool for achieving that goal. In early 1999, a group of people within the Farmland Preservation Task Force formed a steering committee to discuss creating a land trust. In the fall, the committee received a $6,000 grant from the Community Trust to hire a part-time consultant for six months to help with the start-up of the land trust. In spring 2000 the group became incorporated as a not-for-profit organization.

3. Why does Knox County need a land trust?

It's easy to take the rural beauty and open spaces of the county for granted. But we can't assume that what we see and appreciate now will always be there. More and more people are moving into the county, and most of this new growth is occurring in the countryside. In every township, more and more farm fields are giving way to a final "crop" of houses. Now is the best time to identify critical resources and protect them for the future benefit of the community.

4. What is a land trust?

A land trust is a nonprofit organization that is directly involved in protecting important land resources for the public benefit. "Important" means that the lands have natural, scenic, productive, historic, or recreational value to the community. Land trusts are the fastest-growing arm of the conservation movement today. Collectively, local and regional land trusts have preserved over 4.7 million acres in communities across the country.

5. What special advantages do land trusts have?

As private organizations, land trusts offer quick response, flexibility, and confidentiality. They also have the ability to cooperate with both government agencies and other private organizations on conservation projects. Land trusts also provide a cost-effective approach to conservation, often protecting land at a cost far below its market value. Perhaps most importantly, a land trust can respond creatively and effectively to local conservation needs. Unlike national or statewide land trusts, a local land trust knows the area's land resources best. The land-protection program of the Owl Creek Conservancy is tailored to the needs and vision of the Knox County community.

River fishing6. How do land trusts differ from other conservation and preservation groups?

The main difference is that land trusts work closely with individual landowners and are directly involved in land transactions. They use a variety of flexible conservation methods that meet the specific needs of the community and the landowner. The most common of these include:

* Donation -The landowner gives property to the land trust by gift or will.

* Purchase or bargain sale -The land trust, if it has the funding, buys the property from the landowner, sometimes at below-market price.

* Conservation easement -The landowner enters into a legal agreement with the land trust that permanently restricts harmful use and development of the property.

Smaller land trusts, such as the Owl Creek Conservancy, typically rely on land donations and the donation or purchase of conservation easements.

7. What is a conservation easement?

A conservation easement is a legal document that spells out the development restrictions on the land. As with other kinds of easements, such as utility, mining, or access easements, the landowner retains ownership of the land. The conservation easement runs with the deed to the land and is usually permanent.

8. How can conservation easements be used to protect farmland?

An agricultural conservation easement is a specific type of conservation easement that ensures that the land will remain suitable for agricultural use in the future. Certain sections of the farm may be excluded from the easement. Typically, there may also be some provisions for limited development, such as the construction of farm buildings or housing for a family member.

Spotted fawn9. What is the land trust's role in a conservation easement?

As the holder of the easement, the land trust is responsible for making sure that the terms of the easement are carried out. Because the easement is usually permanent, not only the current landowner but all subsequent landowners are required to abide by the terms of the easement. Typically, the land trust monitors the easement by conducting an annual site visit and evaluation.

10. Why do landowners donate conservation easements?

Donors of conservation easements often feel a strong attachment to their land. They may have looked after the land for years or generations. They also recognize that the land represents an important environmental and community resource. Donating an easement (or land) to a conservancy brings peace of mind because the landowner knows the land will be permanently protected from unwanted development.

11. Are there financial benefits to preserving land?

Tax advantages are often an important factor in a landowner's decision to donate land or a conservation easement to a land trust. Charitable gifts of land or development rights typically reduce both federal income taxes and estate taxes. Property taxes, which are locally determined, may drop as well once the development potential of the land has been removed. Tax savings will depend on the owner's financial situation as well as the type of land transaction chosen. Consulting with knowledgeable attorney is essential.

12. How does the Conservancy assist landowners?

The Conservancy provides information on the various tools landowners can use to protect land. We can also help landowners evaluate the conservation potential of a parcel and obtain professional assistance in tax and conservation law, estate planning, real estate appraisal, and environmental planning. Most importantly, the Conservancy offers regular and rigorous monitoring of the land's use to ensure that the conservation values of the property are preserved according to the terms of the easement.

13. How do the Conservancy's efforts benefit the community?

The Conservancy's land-protection efforts benefit the public in a number of ways:

* Protecting land helps maintain the county's rural character.People living in Knox County don't have to travel to experience beautiful and peaceful natural surroundings. Whether we are strolling on the Kokosing Gap Trail, visiting a local farm for apples or sweet corn, or simply driving through the countryside to and from work, the landscape of the county is something we enjoy every day. Protecting land helps to protect the special quality of life available in Knox County.

* Protecting land has environmental benefits. Crop fields, woodlots, wetlands, streams, and even fencerows provide habitat for wildlife. They also provide plant cover that reduces stormwater runoff and erosion, keeping our streams and soils healthy. These undeveloped lands also provide permeable surfaces that allow rainwater to recharge groundwater supplies.

*Protecting land saves tax dollars. Much of the open land in Knox County is agricultural land. Studies of the cost of community services have repeatedly shown that farmland generates more in local taxes than it demands in public services compared to residential development. Land protection and services to new development both cost money, but money spent on land protection is more likely to create a healthy, attractive community.

* Land protection promotes good land-use planning. Identifying areas and sites that are most suitable for preservation can help channel growth to the most appropriate locations.

14. How does the Conservancy select land for protection?

The Conservancy follows a set of guidelines, or criteria, in selecting which acres to protect. These criteria address factors such as the location of the land, the size of the parcel, the critical nature of the resource, the amount of public benefit from preserving the land, the degree of threat to the land, the parcel's proximity to other protected properties or important resources, the cost to protect the land, and the ease of monitoring the land's use. These criteria help to ensure that the individual parcels we protect are important to the community and can be monitored effectively by the Conservancy.

15. How is the Conservancy funded?

The Owl Creek Conservancy is funded primarily through membership dues and other gifts and contributions from individuals and businesses. In addition, we conduct periodic fund-raising events and seek grants from foundations and government agencies. In special cases, the Conservancy may conduct project campaigns to raise money for the purchase of a particular parcel or conservation easement.

16. How can I contribute to the Conservancy's efforts?

Become a member of the Owl Creek Conservancy. If you have some time or expertise to lend, join one of our committees. If you know a landowner who might want to preserve his or her land, pass along a copy of our brochure or our phone number. If you know of a special place or land resource in the county that should be protected, tell us about it. We want to be responsive to the needs and vision of the community.

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